Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Peas

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Where was ricotta gnocchi been all my life?

This is a serious question. A solid gnocchi recipe has been on my wish list for years. Proper gnocchi is one of those foods that can elicit comically inappropriate noises from people. Groans and moans accompanied by fluttering eyelids and lingering licks of the utensils. I have seen it. It is possible. So why can I never get my gnocchi to turn out that way? Every attempt at gnocchi, and there have been several, has produced middling results. Gnocchi that ended up too starchy or too gummy or simply exploded on contact with the water. Nothing that makes you want to run back for a second helping. Certainly nothing that would produce the kind of eating noises that make the people dining at the next table a little uncomfortable. I had written off gnocchi as one of those handful of dishes that were going to forever elude me. Something I would order at restaurants but never enjoy at my own table.

And now this.

Ricotta gnocchi. So freaking easy I still cannot believe it. And the result was fantastic. But really, it was not just the super easy and delicious gnocchi alone. This entire plate is inspired. The recipe came from Bon Appetit, though I made a few modifications to the ingredients based on availability, and I loved the end result so much, I would be hesitant to go back and change anything. There are a lot of steps here. This dish takes a little while. You should expect to spend a solid hour in the kitchen for this. This is something to make when you want to make something special. Though on an average night, you could do this gnocchi prep in very little time and serve it was a nice tomato sauce and that would be just lovely. But when you have the time, do this whole preparation. It is so worth it.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Peas
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Gnocchi

  • One 15 oz. container of whole milk ricotta
  • large egg
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
  • teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil

Sauce

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed*
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed**
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered***
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Fresh chopped chives, grated pecorino romano, and lemon zest (for garnish)

Start by making your gnocchi dough. Lay a stack of paper towels on a baking sheet (three or four depending on thickness). Take the ricotta and lay it out on the paper towels to drain for 20 minutes. [To accomplish this, I chopped the ricotta block into four sections and spread those sections out, each one getting a quadrant of the paper towels. At about the halfway point, I flipped each section over to a dry spot on the paper towels.] When it is done draining, toss the paper towels but hold onto the baking sheet for later in the prep.

When drained, put the ricotta in the bowl of food processor with the egg and the pecorino. Puree until smooth. Add the salt and the black pepper and puree again to incorporate. Add the flour and pulse just until combined. Do not overmix. Take the dough and load it into a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. (If you do not have a pastry bag, you can use a ziplock bag and cut a hole in the corner, but do not cut the hole until you are ready to use the dough.) At this point, your dough can be refrigerated until needed, up to a day. (If you are storing the pastry bag in the fridge, be sure to cover the tip. Or better yet, put the whole thing in a plastic bag or tupperware container.)

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook your asparagus for one to two minutes, just until it turns a deep green. Remove from the water (I used a pair of tongs) and plunge into a ice bath. Remove from ice bath and cut into one inch pieces on the diagonal. Set aside.

Now, time to cook the gnocchi. Using the same pot of water, reduce the temperature so that the water is at a simmer. Take the baking sheet, lightly oil it and set it next to the pot. Take the pastry bag and a paring knife. Pipe the dough directly into the simmering water, cutting off dough in one inch pieces using the knife. (The back side of the knife actually works better than the sharp side. And be careful of hot water splashing up!) You will want to do this in batches of about a dozen pieces. (The trick here is that you want to get enough in to constitute a batch but you want them all to finish cooking at about the same time. I found that this resulted in about a dozen gnocchi each time and about six batches total.) It takes 2 to 3 minutes to cook and is cooked once it has puffed up and is bobbing around on the surface nicely. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pieces and lay them on the oiled baking sheet. Repeat until you have cooked all the gnocchi. Take the pot of water off the heat. Remove about a half cup of the cooking liquid from the pot and set aside.

On to the sauce. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring for about three to five minutes, until mushrooms begin to soften and brown. Add shallots and a generous pinch of fine sea salt. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened and translucent. Now add the asparagus, peas, cooked gnocchi and remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan. Add a splash of the cooking liquid. (More if you like a soupier sauce.) Cook for a minute or two until the butter melts and the sauce thickens, stirring throughout.

After plating, add some chopped chives, grated pecorino and lemon zest to each dish. (You can add salt and pepper to the finished dish, but I did not find them necessary. The chives were the pepper. The pecorino was the salt. All was balanced as it should be.)

*************

* Do you trim your asparagus with a knife or snap the hard ends off by hand? I recommend snapping the hard ends off. You are always sure that way to remove all the woody part and it is just satisfying on a tactile level.

** You could use fresh peas as well here, but frozen work just fine. I set mine in a small colander and ran them under warm water for a minute to thaw them, then set them aside until I needed them.

*** The original recipe called for morels here. I will definitely upgrade the mushrooms to morels if I can get my hands on some, but man, they are hard to find and pricey. In the meantime, crimini mushrooms did the job just fine.

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